For just over a century, Port Dalhousie harbour served as the northern terminus of the first three Welland Canals. These made the town a maritime destination and industrial centre. This is the third lighthouse to be located on this site. The first lighthouse was constructed in 1852, but by 1893 the existing light was considered outdated and a new lighthouse was constructed.
At 8:05 a.m. on Aug. 12, 1898, the lighthouse was struck by lightning, caught fire and burned to the ground. The lightning struck the centre of the tower, smashing the large revolving lamp, igniting the oil and saturating the wooden structure. Capt. David Hunter, the lighthouse keeper, had just gone home for breakfast and escaped injury.
When the fire was burning fiercely, the steamer Lakeside passed out of the harbour and paused for a moment to try and quench the flames. However, Capt. Wigle thought of the immense quantity of oil stored in the structure and considered it advisable, for the safety of his passengers, to continue on his course. Several tugs in the harbour also allowed the fire to proceed, fearing an explosion of the oil tank. Fortunately, there was no explosion, since the tank was split open by the lightning, and so the oil burned until it was consumed.
The Department of Marine and Fisheries began construction of the present lighthouse in October 1898. The lighthouse was automated in 1968 and in 1988 it was decommissioned by Transport Canada at the close of the boating season. Ownership of the lighthouse was transferred to the City of St. Catharines in 1997 and the lighthouse was designated a historical building under the Ontario Heritage Act. The Friends of the Port Dalhousie Lighthouse restored the structure in 2000-2002.
The restoration of the lighthouse revealed a number of architectural features hidden by the exterior façade of the building. For years the walls were clad in decorative wood clapboard and shingles, detailed in white and red. In 1984, the Coast Guard covered the walls of the lighthouse with metal siding to prevent vandals from ripping the wood siding from its sides to build fires. Some of the windows, originally on all sides of the lighthouse, were covered over to prevent vandals from accessing the building.
The four-storey frame tower gently slopes to a height of 16 metres (52 feet) and is topped by an ornate thick cornice creating a small lookout. A 12-sided lantern and a beaver weathervane surmount the tower. A circular iron railing surrounds the twelve-sided lantern with a similarly shaped metal roof.
While octagonal shapes are common for coastal lighthouses, they are unusual for Great Lakes lighthouse design. The Port Dalhousie Inner Range Lighthouse is one of only three remaining lighthouses on the Great Lakes with this shape. This shape is stronger, thereby allowing designers to build a structure higher than the previous two lighthouses. It is considered aesthetically attractive because of its greater height, sense of scale, and use of decorative architectural detailing.
Four-pane double-hung windows with pedimented gables are located around all sides and provide natural light inside the tower and a panoramic view of the harbour. The door is also decorated with a projecting frame topped by a small pediment.
The exterior of the lighthouse is clad with cedar shakes over tongue-and-groove sheathing. The sheathing boards are installed diagonally to provide additional strength to the structure. The inside walls and ceilings are also finished with diagonal boards.
Prior to decommissioning, the lighthouse was red in colour as required by Transport Canada. Once the lighthouse was decommissioned the structure was painted white, a colour with no nautical significance.
While most lighthouses are solitary beacons, the paired set of outer (front) and inner (rear) lights at Port Dalhousie greatly assisted mariners in aligning their approach to the narrow inner harbour.
Although the lighthouse keeper's home was located along Michigan Beach, the lighthouse was equipped with sleeping accommodations, a small kitchen and a primitive washroom in the event the keeper had to stay within the structure to keep the light working. Also, there was likely an office, various control panels and places to hang charts and lamp inspection reports. Four sets of steep, straight stairs lead to the lantern and lookout. Unlike the Outer Range Lighthouse, this structure was constructed to be large enough for the keeper to work within the building.
The lighthouse is owned and managed by the City of St. Catharines and houses the Niagara College Sailing School during the summer months.
80 Lighthouse Rd.
St. Catharines, ON
The Lighthouse is not open to the public.